Vibrantly colored buildings line the cobblestone streets of San Miguel de Allende, a romantic city with 16th-century origins nestled among central Mexico's Sierra Madre Mountains. Through the past 50 years, this quaint city has evolved into a respite for expats and a popular destination for tourists looking to delve into the music, food and arts scene of off-the-beaten-path Mexico. It's easy to swoon over the 500-year-old colonial city's narrow walkways, baroque architecture and artisan shops selling plenty of crafts, jewelry and handmade accessories. Breaks from shopping can be spent exploring the city's defining Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel church, taking classes at the well-recognized Instituto Allende art school or discovering handcrafted Mexican masks at the Another Face of Mexico mask museum.
San Miguel's location — about 170 miles northwest of Mexico City in Guanajuato state — plays a key role in its dynamic history. Once full of wealth from nearby silver mines, San Miguel was left dilapidated after multiple wars (the early 20th century's Mexican Revolution among them). In 1937, Chicago native Stirling Dickinson stumbled upon the small town, established an artist's colony and quickly got San Miguel's renaissance off the ground. Today, evidence of that compelling re-emergence can be seen tucked into every lively corner of the diverse, arts-driven destination.
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The best time to visit San Miguel de Allende is November through April. Though San Miguel's climate doesn't vary too much throughout the year (average high temperatures hover between 73 and 88 degrees Fahrenheit no matter the season), November through April experiences less rainfall than the summer months. Meanwhile, winter nights can get cold, so plan to bring warmer layers for when the sun goes down.
Data sourced from the National Climatic Data Center
Many expatriates and retirees spend their days relaxing in coffee shops or meeting friends on San Miguel de Allende's central plaza, El Jardin. Artists work in studios throughout the city, and crafts, jewelry and other folk art is sold along winding cobblestone streets. If you're looking to shop for creative wares, keep in mind that some stores close from 2 to 5 p.m. daily (except on Sundays when many stores are closed all day).
While Spanish is the national language of Mexico, nearly everyone in San Miguel speaks some English. Most tours and services are offered in both languages, and you shouldn't have too much trouble finding someone who can speak English should you need some help. If your Spanish could use some improvement, San Miguel de Allende is a good place to learn: Language classes are a popular activity for visitors and new residents.
The moderate cost of living in San Miguel is one of its main draws. The Mexican peso (MXN), the national currency, is accepted throughout San Miguel. One peso is equal to about $0.075 USD. Visitors can exchange international currency at the Casa de Cambio (currency exchange office). ATM machines will tack on a service fee per transaction, but they're likely to offer better exchange rates than the local banks or exchange offices. You may not need much cash, though — most of the city's restaurants and shops accept major credit cards. Regardless of how you pay at restaurants, it's customary to tip servers 10 to 15 percent of your total bill — a rate that should also be applied to cab driver and hotel staff tips as well.
San Miguel is considered one of the safest cities in Mexico, with lower incidents of violence than other areas of Mexico. But that doesn't mean you should let your guard down completely. Always keep your belongings close and stay alert when walking through the city at night. And although Guanajuato state has a drinking water supply, avoid any risk at restaurants or elsewhere by sticking to bottled water.
The cuisine in San Miguel de Allende is predominantly loyal to its Mexican roots, yet offers artisan and gourmet fare influenced by its expat and international community. Many locals grow their own produce making San Miguel's markets — like the vibrant Mercado Ignacio Ramirez — a worthwhile stop for insight into the city's food culture. The farm-to-table dining approach is a big part of San Miguel's growing foodie scene, which ranges from fine dining institutions like Donnie Masterson's international spot, The Restaurant, to the dozens of food trucks and carts serving tacos, tamales and more, at the popular "Taco Corner." Despite the wide range of dining atmospheres and international fare, some traditional Mexican dishes are not to be missed: Be sure to try the hearty enchiladas mineras (miners' enchiladas) and the pacholas guanajuatenses (fried beef fritters spiced with cinnamon and ancho chiles).
The best way to get around San Miguel de Allende is on foot. Some of the most exciting discoveries in the mountain town can be found along its winding walkways. Just be sure to pack comfortable sneakers; cobbled, narrow streets can be tough on feet. While a car won't be convenient for navigating the ins and outs of San Miguel, it will be useful if you choose to take day trips. Central San Miguel lacks public transportation, but buses are available for trips to attractions located farther from the city's core. You can also access all corners of San Miguel by taxi. If you're up to it, you can try biking through San Miguel's streets. Just note that the hilly terrain can be a challenge.
Finding your way to San Miguel can be simple, despite its remote location about 170 miles (or around a three-hour drive) northwest of Mexico City's Benito Jaurez International Airport (MEX). Queretaro Airport (QRO) sits nearly 55 miles southeast of San Miguel, while Leon/Guanajuato Airport (BJX) can be found approximately 60 miles (or about a 90-minute drive) west of the city. Though Leon/Guanajuato is a bit further, it's the most popular airport for international travel to San Miguel because it operates direct flights to and from several major U.S. cities daily. Taxis from either Queretaro or Leon/Guanajuato airports to San Miguel will cost about $90 USD for up to three people.See details for Getting Around
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When you head to Mexico, you'll need both a valid passport and an FMM tourist card, which you'll most likely get from your airline or at a border-crossing point. Hold on to that tourist card until you depart — you'll need it to re-enter the United States. For more information, visit the U.S. State Department's website .
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